Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Sendak's Less Wild Side: Little Bear

The passing of Maurice Sendak today has brought a wave of reminiscing about his best-loved work, "Where the Wild Things Are."

That book is certainly a favorite in our household, but on a typical night we're more likely to be reading Elliot one of the "Little Bear" books.

Sendak was the illustrator but not the writer for this series, which was published in the 1950s and '60s (apparently there was a TV show as well, but I've never seen it). We enjoyed the books as kids, and then Elliot picked up the tradition when we found one of the volumes in Santa Cruz.

The prose, by Else Holmelund Minarik, is often charming. But I have to wonder how much of the magic comes from Sendak's illustrations, which feel like a gentle reminder of the Victorian era.

Sendak's own writing was perhaps more poignant and nuanced than anything in "Little Bear," but he was a far more prolific illustrator than author. He did the drawings for almost 50 stories in the '50s and '60s alone. As a writer, meanwhile, he's only truly famous for a book that contains about 300 words. Even so, both talents have stood the test of time.